One board to rule them allIf you are a millennial in Nepal, it is likely that when you think of board games, you first reminisce about Ludo and Snakes and Ladders, before you think of handcrafted Bagh Chal and Chess—a staple for curio shops peppered across the Valley. Of course, there’s also Pasha and Kauda.
If you are a millennial in Nepal, it is likely that when you think of board games, you first reminisce about Ludo and Snakes and Ladders, before you think of handcrafted Bagh Chal and Chess—a staple for curio shops peppered across the Valley. Of course, there’s also Pasha and Kauda.
But what comes to mind, when you think of a board game that has been entirely designed and produced in Nepal?
When Kreeti Shakya and Manish Shrestha, avid gamers and co-founders at Kazi Studios, arrived in Nepal after living in the US, they also brought along Settlers of Catan—a multiplayer board game that orginated in Germany in the 90’s.
“We introduced Catan to a few of our friends and cousins, and everyone got hooked to it,” says Manish. “Our one board was being circulated among our circle of friends in no time. Since we couldn’t buy Catan in the market here, we decided to build a separate set, so that more people could play the game.”
The duo named the newly-built model ‘Settlers of Patan’ and incorporated a lot of local elements and local artefacts in the game. During the process, they had already realised that Nepal’s lack of board gaming culture primarily stemmed from lack of resources.
“Building Settlers of Patan was actually the seed that inspired us to build our own original board game,” says Kreeti, “We realised that in order to get more people to play board games, we just need to come up with something that is simple, straight-forth, and inexpensive.”
In building a new game, they’d also be solving an oft-derided problem—cultivating a creative culture which steers kids and adults alike from their gadget’s screens.
The first ‘Made-in-Nepal’ game
In December 2016, Kazi Studios rolled out their brain-child Samrajya—a localised board game that is based as much on strategy as it is based on luck.
Samrajya reminds one of the Snakes and Ladders game, where the ladders are replaced by short-cuts and the snakes are replaced by traps. Every move is determined by the number a player rolls on the dice.
To add another layer of intrigue, Samrajya is also based on a narrative that loosely follows the Unification of Nepal.
“Samrajya is a game that invites players to combat ruthless rivals, fearsome invaders, and mysticism of Kathmandu Valley,” say the game designers.
The main objective of the game is to navigate cautiously and capture the four kingdoms—Kirtipur, Patan, Bhaktapur, and Kathmandu—and claim the crown. The rules are simple, you roll the dice, and you make your move.
And then of course, there is a deck of cards—ranging from those that keep you safe to those that allow you to bomb another player—which help the players make or break the game altogether.
The bases, where a player goes back when they are attacked by another player or when they fall in a trap, are historic places such as Hanumandhoka Jail of Kathmandu and Banglamukhi of Patan, and give the game a unique Nepali-ness.
What goes into making a board game?
“It took us a little over six months to come up with the first version of the game,” says Manish. It was in July, 2016 that the team started brainstorming for different concepts, routes, and storylines for the game.
“We looked into a number of different games from all around the globe to get an idea about what works and what doesn’t,” he adds.
In August that followed, Kazi came up with the first prototype of the board game, which was entirely hand-drawn. “We played that scribbled-down game among ourselves and kept on scratching and improving different functions until the page was completely unreadable,” Kreeti shares. “We had to come up with a cleaner and better prototype. This time, we actually printed it.”
That was when the team started designing and illustrating pathways and icons that can be found in the game today. The next step was to introduce the printed prototype to their immediate circle. “We organised game parties with a bunch of people from different age groups, almost every other day at the office. They would play the game and give us feedback on what was confusing, what worked, what didn’t, and what they thought of the game,” share the designers.
By the end of October, the game saw its final form before it went out for print and packaging.
While Kazi Studios’ efforts have been applauded and Samrajya has already become a popular souvenir to take away from Kathmandu, the team has had its fair share of struggles.
“The biggest challenge we faced was finding proper vendors to build the game for us,” shares Manish, confirming that while designing is the most crucial part, execution is what determines the success of a locally-produced product. The team had to invest in prototypes made with various materials by different vendors to make sure that every piece was properly made.
“Another challenge we faced was getting people to understand what our product was. We went to a few traditional publication houses and book stores and asked them if they wanted to carry our product, but they were very sceptical about the product,” says Kreeti.
Despite it all, in the 10 months it has been available, Kazi Studios has already sold more than 700 copies of Samrajya and it is available across three physical venues, and one online store in the Valley.
The game has also come up with new extension cards that swiftly turn Samrajya into Bhatti—a drinking game.
With an aim to strengthen the board-gaming culture among Nepali audience, the team is already working on a new board game that is Nepal-centric, but constitutes elements and requires strategies which are much different from Samrajya’s.